The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

March 29, 2011
How California government can be more transparent

During the recent Sunshine Week activities, USPIRG issued a report card giving California a "D+" for its dismal record of government transparency. The Pacific Research Institute also weighed in with an in-depth study, Bringing More Sunshine to California: How to Expand Open Government in the Golden State.

To understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of this state's current transparency rules, PRI researchers compared California's open record and open meeting regulations with those in other states. After careful quantitative analysis, they found that California ranked 17th in open record laws (p. 49) and 45th in open meeting laws (p. 46).

Based on their detailed study, PRI developed a concrete set of recommendations (p. 57) for improving transparency. These include:

* Tightening the legal definition of a public meeting and tighten the rules regarding informal or chance gatherings of officials.

* Abolishing exemptions for certain types of meetings, such as those dealing with agency executive hiring, public employee salaries/benefits, collective-bargaining with unions and eminent domain.

* Requiring online notice of upcoming public meetings and online posting and archiving of meeting minutes.

* Making public police disciplinary proceedings/actions. Open police misconduct files after one year.

* Requiring all agencies to develop and make public guidelines and procedures (including fees) for citizen access to records.

* Expediting appeals for public access to meetings/records. Strengthen criminal penalties and establish civil penalties for violations of open meeting/record rules.

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